Posthuman response to Gee

During IDEL I was troubled by aspects of James Paul Gee’s assertions on identity. I critiqued both What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (2003) and Identity as an Analytic Lens for Research in Education (2000) the latter by looking at it through the sociomaterial cloud of Actor Network Theory as part of my final assignment. As part of my feedback, Sian suggested that posthumanism could be a useful extension of the critique especially when questioning the essentialism of some of Gee’s claims. So I have decided to revisit, briefly, the texts and will attempt to tie in some of my new learning, with Gee’s claims about ‘core identity’ which he mentions in both texts.

Gee suggests that each individual has a central identity which connects to all of its performed social identities, and which evolves over time. As he puts it, ‘We have this core identity thanks to being in one and the same body over time and thanks to being able to tell ourselves a reasonably (but only reasonably) coherent life story in which we are the “hero” (or, at least, central character).’ (Gee 2003 p.4). If we take the initial assumption that we are ‘in one and the same body’ as the starting point of this discussion, it is arguable that this statement is already troublesome according to posthumanist thinking. Haraway’s cyborg myth suggests that ‘we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism’ (Haraway 2000 p.35), which suggests a manifestation of life which is far from the stable body Gee talks about. And whilst Hayles argues that the body or the flesh is indeed a crucial part of the posthuman jigsaw, she also suggests that human life is embedded in a material world of ‘great complexity’ (Hayles 1999 p.5) not, then, a simple bounded human body. The second part of Gee’s sentence suggests a narrative identity. The first problem for post humanist thinking here would be that Gee is privileging the human both within this story, ‘we’ are the “hero”, and in the making of this story, we ‘tell ourselves’ the story. In fact, Gee goes on to say that the evolution of this narrative, that is the development of our core identity, is made ‘socially through participation with others in various groups’ (Gee 2003 p.4), suggesting a degree of humanism which would be incompatible with posthumanist thinking. Haraway problematises this humanism describing the ‘the tradition of reproduction of the self from the reflection of the other’ as an unproductive, bounded ‘war’.  (Haraway 200o p.35). Secondly, this narrative,which would necessarily have a start, a middle and an end in order to be even ‘reasonably…coherent’, and would likely be based on a traditional Oedipal development process which Haraway describes as ‘An origin story in the ‘Western’, humanist sense [which] depends on the myth of original unity, fullness, bliss and terror, represented by the phallic mother from whom all humans must separate, the task of individual development and of history…’ (ibid). And this story, Haraway’s cyborg would gleefully ‘skip’! (ibid)


Gee, James Paul (2003) What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy, Palgrave Macmillan, New York”

Gee, James Paul (2000) ‘Identity as an Analytic Lens for Research in Education’ Review of Research in Education, Vol. 25 (2000 – 2001) pp.99-125

Haraway, D. (2000). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late 20th Century. in D Bell and A Kennedy, The Cybercultures Reader. Routledge.

Hayles, N.K. (1999). Toward embodied virtuality, chapter 1 of How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature and informatics. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. pp1-25




No comments yet.

Leave a Reply